Zoompad's blog is dedicated to stamping out child abuse.
Yes, he is dead, and we Pindown survivors have lost the best advocate we ever had. If Richard had lived he would have not allowed me to be persecuted in the secret family courts for years. If Richard was alive he would be at Trafalger Square with Chris Wittwer and the others, I know he would. He was one of the best men I ever knew.
I am not going to let him be forgotten. I wish I had a photo of him, I would make another video about him if I had. He must never be forgotten.
A BIT OF FUN
That is just so funny! You deserve a medal Ian for making me smile today!
If he can't spring you, nobody can Richard Wise is a human hurricane. He can get a woman imprisoned for debt out of jail within six hours and look after his two children at the same time. Emma Brooker Friday, 17 May 1996Richard Wise is tousled, verging on dishevelled. Mobile phone in one hand, bright red kids' shoe bag in the other, this afternoon he is ferrying his two small children around Stoke-on-Trent in his battered blue Nissan estate. Lawyer and single parent, Wise combines the two roles to become a sort of human hurricane. Starey-eyed and intense, one minute he is fielding calls from prisons and magistrates courts all over England, the next minute he is grilling his six-year-old daughter about the whereabouts of her packed lunch.Admirers rate Wise as the most dynamic radical lawyer in the country. Detractors suggest that this soft-spoken 38-year-old is a menace to society. But there is one thing about him on which everyone can agree. Richard Wise is the man who gets women out of prison. He has "sprung" several hundred of them from jail within the past year. Inmates of Holloway, Risley and Drake Hall, the main women's prisons in the UK, whisper the name Richard Wise to new arrivals as though it were the key to the prison gates. If he can't get you out, nobody can.Wise specialises in obtaining the release of women imprisoned for non- payment of television licences, council tax, small debts and petty fines. Britain is the only country in Western Europe that still jails people for civil debt. Magistrates imprison up to 500 debtors daily, with figures running to around 30,000 a year. About a third of all women sent down are jailed for debt, often unlawfully. Magistrates are supposed to have exhausted all other measures and use custody only as a last resort.But just as quickly as magistrates put women behind bars for so-called "crimes of poverty", Wise is working round the clock to get them out again. It is hardly the most glamorous area of civil rights work, but Wise's commitment to his clients, whom he rarely meets or even hears from after their release, is total and passionate. And his work has a huge practical impact on the hundreds of women whose freedom he secures and their dependants.Wise seems to make no distinction between work and personal life. Both areas are equally demanding as, since the breakdown of his marriage last year, he has full-time care of his children every other week. His home is linked umbilically to his office with fax and computer, and the usual office/home boundaries are further blurred by the fact that Wise works mainly with his younger brother Ian, a barrister at Helena Kennedy QC's Doughty Street chambers."His office is right next to the High Court, and because he's my brother I can bully him into doing judicial reviews for me. We don't have to be polite to each other either, and that saves a lot of time," says Richard.
The Wise brothers spend, on average, an hour each night talking through cases on the phone, Richard often talking on his mobile while he supervises his children's bath time. On Sunday afternoons, the two brothers thrash out business further while jogging along the canal towpaths of Stoke, their home town.Both are outsiders to the legal establishment. Richard describes his experience as a working-class child attending a "stuffy" middle-class school as being formative in shaping his attitude towards the class-ridden legal hierarchy. To this day, he takes institutional injustice towards vulnerable individuals personally, which partly explains his commitment to his clients."I felt like an outsider," explains Richard, who had learning difficulties and left school at 16 with two O-levels and not much self-confidence. "My mum and dad saw no value in further education."Richard started out in his father's trade as an apprentice "slabber" , making fireplace surrounds from tile and plaster. Ian left school at 18 and worked as a labourer in a Crewe tea factory for 10 years while studying for an Open University degree.Maverick to the last, Richard prides himself on not fitting into a comfortable "alternative" bracket either. "The trendy, radical lawyers down in London don't know what to make of me, because I work from an old-fashioned small- town firm of solicitors up north." He seems to delight in challenging, confusing and annoying the sort of people who wrote him off as a child, and clearly identifies far more with his clients than his colleagues.During a five-year stint as a case worker with the Citizens' Advice Bureau, Richard worked extensively with people on benefits and in debt, and seems to be fired by a desire to redress the balance of power in their favour. In 1989 he joined a radical firm of solicitors in the Midlands, and started doing ground-breaking para-legal work with imprisoned poll-tax defaulters. Repeatedly challenging magistrates through the High Court, he went on successfully to sue several magistrates for unlawful imprisonment, and in so doing he believes he brought about a sharp drop in the jailing of poll-tax defaulters.Last year, when the female prison population swelled to a record of nearly 2,000, several governors, desperate to free places by getting non-criminals out of jail, called Wise and asked him to help. "The prisons needed the space, and they were also observing that a lot of the women in for debt were assimilating the behaviour of the serious criminals they were alongside," says Wise.
The motivating factor for Wise in getting involved was the thought of the "collateral damage" that the jailing of debtors can do to dependants. When women are jailed, their children are often taken into local authority care.The bail officer at Holloway prison in London now refers the handful of debtors who arrive at the prison every day directly to Wise. Today they fax through papers for a new inmate called Sandra (not her real name) who has been sent down for 14 days for outstanding fines for soliciting totalling nearly pounds 500.Richard springs into action. "Every new case is important and exciting," he says. "Not because of the legal principles, but because each one of these clients has got a personal tragedy to tell."Within minutes he has Sandra on the phone and is coaxing her life story out of her. It turns out that she is a 25-year-old single parent with three small children, all of them suffering from sickle cell anaemia and in need of weekly hospital treatment. "You'll be out by tonight," he murmurs to her before hanging up.Bristling with indignation, Wise is operating on full throttle. "I work on a different timescale to most solicitors," he says. "If I don't get her out within six hours, I've failed."Within minutes he has e-mailed his brother, faxed the magistrates' court that sentenced Sandra, and is on the phone to the court clerk threatening a High Court action.Wise's methods amount to a kind of bureaucratic terrorism. He has won plenty of enemies with his take-no-prisoners tactics, including Rosemary Thomson, chairman of the Magistrates Association."Richard has decided that part of his career is to work with women defaulters," she says. "But men and women are equal before the law. How are we to say that we are not going to send women with young children to prison for fine default? People are responsible for their own finances. Why can't they pay?" She points out that there are "a lot of poor people who are paying up with great difficulty". Why, in that case, should anybody be let off?Others gush praise for Wise. "He's saving the country a lot of money," says Chris Tchaikovsky of the charity Women in Prison. The cost of jailing a woman is about pounds 600 per week, a sum greater than most of the debts that people are imprisoned for. "It's not every solicitor who will work that far and go that extra mile to get women out," she says, "yet there's nothing self-important, stuffy, altruistic or smug about him."Tchaikovsky and other campaigners object to the jailing of debtors because, they say, it criminalises the poor, punishes their children and betrays a "Dickensian" attitude towards poverty redolent of the Victorian workhouse and poor laws. But in the end, the most persuasive argument against the practise is cost. A Bill aimed at ending the jailing of debtors in all but the most extreme cases will be launched by MPs later this month. It has cross-party support and would cut the number of people jailed for debt by about 80 per cent, saving up to pounds 20m of public money each year.Until the law is changed, Wise remains a lifeline for pressured prison governors and jailed debtors alike. Of the 360 cases he has handled in the past year and a half, only five have failed.As Wise drives his children from the childminders' back to his office, where they will wait for him to finish some outstanding work, his mobile rings. His brother is calling with the news that magistrates have signed the bail order for Sandra's release. Happy in the knowledge that she will be back home tonight with her children, Wise will be able to relax and get stuck into the next case.
Brothers in law put up a fight1 November 1999They are the wise guys. Richard and Ian Wise to be precise. And between them they have kept thousands of Britain's most disadvantaged citizens out of jail.Last month, they won a landmark High Court ruling giving hundreds of fine defaulters the go-ahead to begin compensation claims for wrongful imprisonment.Their influence is becoming legendary in prisons. So much so that one in 12 applications for judicial review before the High Court is brought by Richard Wise - and he does not even have any formal legal qualifications.Richard, 42, has become the legal champion of the impoverished, fighting for the rights of fine defaulters jailed by over-eager magistrates.And the lawyer representing Wise's clients in the High Court? Step forward brother Ian, a 39-year-old barrister from Doughty Street Chambers in London.The wise guys have clearly found a niche market, paid for mainly by legal aid. Yet it is not love of money that is motivating the duo, but a desire to help people who committed mainly minor indiscretions and have ended up in jail through an inability to pay even the smallest fine.
Richard, who used to write Beak of the Week along with Paul Foot in Private Eye magazine, says: "There are lots of well-meaning lawyers around the country, but everybody seems to turn their backs on the biggest group of people in prisons and the biggest miscarriage of justice that has ever occurred. The Birmingham Six and the Guildford Four pale into insignificance with what is going on here and yet nobody seems to be bothered by it."Between 1992 and 1995, 22,500 fine defaulters were jailed annually. The figure is now down to 8,500 - thanks to Richard's crusading campaign and the resultant criticism of the practice by the higher courts.Lord Justice Brooke, in his 18 November ruling, said that magistrates had failed to treat jail as a "last resort". He overturned the jail term of six of Richard's clients, paving the way for them and hundreds of others to claim compensation for wrongful imprisonment."The reality is there are non-qualified people around who have specialised in areas of work, and because of their special interests they know more about the system than many qualified people," says Richard."Part of the criticism of why the system has gone wrong is because solicitors in magistrates courts have let their clients down. It is only when the quality of representation improves that we will get improved decision-making in the courts."Besides acting in about 200 judicial review cases a year, Richard also has 150 cases going through the European Court of Human Rights - more, he believes, than any other lawyer on the Continent.Richard says: "I have spent years and years banging my head against a brick wall in the Labour Party to find a political solution to some of these problems and I have been extremely disappointed at the way social injustice has fallen off the bottom of the Labour Party agenda. I feel sad that this is still going on."
Richard, who operates from HMB Law, a small firm in Biddulph, just outside Stoke in Staffordshire, finds recourse to justice through the courts more satisfying than playing politics."I was always committed to doing something about injustices and the way disadvantaged people got a raw deal," he says. "Originally I thought I could do that as a politician and I was a Labour councillor for a total of nine years in Staffordshire and Stoke."But I am extremely disillusioned about image politics and resigned as a councillor earlier this year."He worked previously for the Citizens Advice Bureau in the late 1980s before joining Birmingham firm Tyndallwoods in its civil liberties unit. He moved to his home town Stoke in 1994 where he manages HMB Law's civil liberties team."We are a relatively tight team of people that specialise in child care, crime and public law," he says. "Because I'm not a lawyer, I have to be supervised. But because all the cases are in the High Court, we have to instruct counsel anyway, so in practice it makes no difference whether I am qualified or not."Richard has become famous in Britain's jails , especially in women's prisons. He says: "What happens now is there is gossip within the prison system, so as soon as an inmate goes into prison there are other inmates or prison officers who say: You need to speak to Richard Wise."The average sentence for fine defaulters is about 15 to 20 days, but some of them have gone to prison for three months. If I don't get bail within six hours of speaking to the person, I have failed. That is the target I set myself. What usually happens is they spend one night inside, by which point they get to hear about me. Then they give me a call the next morning.
"My first port of call is then my brother. He worked in a tea factory in Crewe until he decided to utilise his undoubted skills and, for reasons best known to himself, decided to be a barrister. He trained late."Probably no other barrister makes as many applications for judicial review as Ian Wise. He is, by his own reckoning, successful in the vast majority of them.In court nine at the Royal Courts of Justice, his strong northern accent is in stark contrast to the clipped tones around him. Today he is fighting for the rights of a cerebral palsy sufferer in a battle over funding.Ian has come a long way in a short space of time, having joined the Bar only in 1992. For 12 years he worked on the shop floor of a tea factory earning #100 a week. "It is good training. If you can hold your own on the shop floor, you can hold your own anywhere. It's a tougher life on the shop floor than it is in court," he reflects.While working, he studied for six years for a history degree with the Open University to escape the day-to-day banality of his job.Ian says the law was never really an option until his wife put him under pressure to find an alternative career to a life in the factory.He became a barrister, practising criminal law for a couple of years before moving to public law. An invitation to join Doughty Street Chambers followed.He is, like his brother, proud of the High Court victories on behalf of the thousands of Britain's fine defaulters wrongly imprisoned by over-zealous magistrates.But then they are the wise guys. Or rather they are two working-class brothers from Stoke who have battled against the system - and won.
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